Forcing Plants, Gardening, How To, Jorge, Plants

forcing vegetables

Forcing fruit and vegetables in winter is fun way to ensure you have a steady supply of fresh greens for your family. It involves producing crops out of season through replicating the environmental conditions necessary for plant growth. This quirky custom dates back to at least the 1600s, but achieved peak popularity with the Victorians, when the better off sought to impress their friends with spring salads.

Forcing Rhubarb

forcing rhubarb

Forcing rhubarb is an easy way to start experimenting with forcing plants, and can be done throughout the winter, although it works best in January and February. Simply start by removing weeds and leaves around the rhubarb crown, and place some fresh mulch. Then use large cylinder (preferably a pot) to cover the crowns, plugging any holes in the process. This exclusion of light will start frenzied growth, and the stems should be ready in only eight weeks, provided the soil is kept moist! You can harvest when the stems hit the roof of the pot, although 20-30cm of growth is to be expected.

It is recommended that you use established plants as the young ones may not have sufficient energy reserves, and that you do not force again for 2 years as the process leaves the plant susceptible to disease. If you are in colder climate, or are expecting a harsh winter, insulating the pot will be necessary. The warmer it is, the faster the plant will grow, and 18-20°C is the optimum temperature. Unsurprisingly, as the rhubarb is deprived of the light, it will be unable to photosynthesise, and will appear paler than usual. Also noticeable, is how the resultant stem is decidedly less bitter, supposedly due to less sugar.

Forcing Strawberries

forcing strawberries

Forcing strawberries can be a little more difficult, but the key is to expose the plant to the cold until at least February, before moving it to a warm environment. This extended cooling is necessary to convince the plant that an extended period of warmth is about to begin, thus signalling the changing of the seasons. When choosing which strawberry plants to force, you can try older plants that perhaps performed poorly in the year, but if you are really keen, you can plant runners up to a year and a half early, and cultivate the plant’s root system through picking off its flowers.

Now, what kind of warmth are we talking about? An unheated greenhouse can produce a small crop, but instead it is better to use a either a propagation mat or a greenhouse heater to raise the temperature a small amount. Now, if you wish to keep your strawberry plants outside, you can use a cloche that can be removed on the milder days to attract bees.

paintbrush-pollination

Once you decide to move to the plant into the warmth, it is now time to apply some TLC. First remove dead leaves, runners and weeds and give them a dressing with mulch. Then as it is cold outside and there are no bees, you’ll have to do the pollinating. Grab yourself a paintbrush or cotton swab and rub it over each of the flowers as often as possible. (Some gardeners do this daily!) Finally it’s time to start the watering regimen, that is until the fruits finally ripen, when you should let the earth dry out. (This helps concentrate sugars in the fruit.)

Forcing doesn’t just have to be used in winter and other vegetables that are historically forced include Chinese Beansprouts, Chicory, Dandelion and Seakale. For fruits, gardeners have reported success with tomatoes and even pineapples. Do you have any experience with forcing fruit? If so we would love hear from you. Post in the comments below!

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Dakota Murphey, Garden Design, How To

After all the weeks of planning, builders and tradesmen trampling across your lawn carrying roof tiles, lengths of timber, and panes of glass, your beautiful new summerhouse is finally complete. The paint inside and out has dried nicely, the sliding glass doors open and close effortlessly, the patio decking can’t wait to be walked on, and the wood burner works like a charm.

But there’s one more important thing you need to do and that’s furnish and decorate it. So let’s take a look at some creative décor ideas so that your garden building looks terrific and will be the envy of all your friends.

A garden building is very different to rooms in your home

Stamford Summerhouse 16 x 10

Let’s start with the obvious: a garden building, or summerhouse, is a lot different from other rooms in your house. For one, it’s detached and is probably found at the end of your garden. Because it can be rather hot and humid in summer, many garden buildings have large windows and are built with sliding doors that open onto a patio deck, keeping everyone cool. Windows and glass doors also offer lots of natural light and bring the greenery of the garden into the space.

In winter, unless you’ve had the foresight of fitting insulation and heating, your summerhouse can be a little on the chilly side. That’s why it’s called a summerhouse! When decorating, the trick is to select furniture with these conditions in mind. Modern patio furniture works well together with a mix of chic warm-coloured furnishings.

Choosing the right furniture for your garden room

Before choosing any furniture, it’s a good idea to measure your floor area, making allowance for walkways and doorways. Although there’s a wide variety of easy chairs, sofa suites and occasional tables available, it’s best to keep the interior simple and uncluttered so the room looks bigger than it is.

As there’s such a great choice of stylish garden furniture on the market, you could use some of these to furnish the inside. A small two-seater couch, a traditional cane chair, some small circular tables or a low coffee table are an option. Throw one or two bold, colourful rugs on the floor, match the colours of these in your curtains and you’re well on your way to creating a warm welcoming space.

Access is also very important, so plan beforehand, as you may need to buy furniture that can be assembled inside the summerhouse. If you only have a small garden room and space is limited, avoid over cluttering – try to keep the room feeling light and bright and as spacious as possible.

Traditional or contemporary?

Carmen Wooden Pavilion H2.2m

There are literally hundreds of different styles and designs of furniture, and these range from traditional cane conservatory-style pieces to the more chic, contemporary rattan weave. If your summerhouse is modern and modular, look for pieces that are chunky but not overbearing, sleek, stylish and classic in look and feel.

Popular choices of furniture include: cane, wicker, rattan, seagrass, willow as well as classic Lloyd Loom furniture. Stone, marble-topped or mosaic-tiled coffee tables are very much in vogue, and metal furniture such as cast aluminium or wrought iron and glass are also popular choices. A small, brightly-coloured upholstered sofa in a garden building also works well.

Furnishings and fabrics

Once you’ve decided on the furniture, you need to choose your soft furnishings. These range from traditional floral prints to bold and modern neutral fabrics. Here, it’s all down to personal taste. If you decide to play it bold, then our advice is to go all the way, don’t hold back. Make the room as colourful and bright and as happy as you can. If, on the other hand, you’d rather play it safe, go with muted earthy colours and soft pastels and let the simplicity and beauty of your summerhouse do the talking.

In summer, you’re bound to find yourself entertaining lots of friends and relatives who’ll all enjoy the summerhouse and the barbecues on the deck. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to make sure all your seat cushions, covers, rugs and other soft furnishings can be removed easily for washing. Chairs, sofas and rugs can get a little grubby with all that food, wine and beer you’ll be serving up!

Be creative. Be bold. Incorporate new ideas, different materials and styles of furniture, then sit back and enjoy your lovely summerhouse.

Dakota Murphey, independent content writer & home improvement specialist working alongside Hortons UK Log Cabins to bring you this article.

Awnings, Dakota Murphey, Garden Design

choosing the best awning

Awnings can add great style and some fantastic colour to your home’s patio. On hot sunny days, you can sit out and have a barbecue while enjoying the shade and the comfort they provide. There are many awning options available so it can be difficult to find the ideal fit for your patio. There are open awnings, full cassette awnings, pergola patio roof blinds and even rain awnings.

Because there are many things to consider when choosing the right awnings for your home, you need to be sure you’re making the right choice.

Which awning is right for you?

Retractable awnings

5m Full Cassette Manual Awning, Turquoise

Retractable awnings consist of a metal framework that’s covered with hard-wearing fabric. The framework is normally mounted directly to the brickwork of your house. These awnings can be opened and retracted either manually, with a hand crank or with an automatic electronic system. They provide instant shade, or can be conveniently rolled up when you don’t need them, and they’re not a permanent structure on your patio.

Awnings can be installed easily on most patios. The brackets are mounted to the frame that supports the weight of the awning. The structure is solid and will last a long time. There will be a space between the patio and the eaves and gutters, while an allowance is made for clearance from any light fittings and electric points.

Canopy awnings

Perfect for a patio, these fabric-roofed coverings are supported by a solid frame that’s bolted to the patio. The frame then becomes a permanent fixture, and you can choose to leave the fabric cover up all year round or remove it in the winter months. Canopy awning fabrics normally last around 15 years. The awnings come in pyramid roof style and hip roof style and you can choose from a wide range of colours.

Latina Aluminium Canopy H2.3m

Outdoor lighting can be installed on the framework. Canopy awnings are as good choice for full shading of smaller patios and the fabric won’t sag or tear. The structure is strong enough to withstand rain, strong winds and even hail and strong winds (although it’s a good idea to remove the cloth in high winds). And because it’s a permanent structure, the canopy has no moving parts that can jam or break.

Intelligent awnings

If you want to go really high-tech, then you might like to have ‘intelligent’ awnings installed. These have built in sun sensors and automatically open or close depending on whether the sun is out or hidden behind dark grey clouds. There are also wind sensors that automatically retract your awning in blowy conditions. This helps to avoid damage to the awning.

What about reliability?

Awnings are a big investment, so you need to know that the fabric, the frame and the electronic components are able to withstand the variable weather all year round. The fabric mustn’t fade and the frames mustn’t rust.

Synthetic yarns are a good choice as they’re strong and won’t tear. If you live in a location that has really bad weather conditions like heavy rains and winds you might want to invest in an awning that incorporates a top coat or laminate, as these are really strong. However, most of the fabrics on the market these days are hard-wearing, long-lasting and fade-resistant. The frames are constructed from stainless steel and powder-coated aluminium, so they are resilient and will remain free from rust.

… and value for money?

You pay for what you get! Buy the best quality patio awnings you can afford. There are cheap products out there but these won’t last as long as a top quality awning and frame. Most awnings come with a five-year guarantee.

Don’t forget to ask about optional extras like patio heaters and night lights, so you can enjoy evenings out on the patio in chilly weather.

Make sure you get satisfactory answers to these essential questions:

• What size awning do I require?
• Do I want the awning to provide shade throughout the day?
• Do I want a manual or a motorised awning?
• Which style of awning best suits my home?
• Which fabric should I choose?
• Will the awning be fully automatic?

Dakota Murphey an independent writer, working alongside blind specialists Aquarius Blinds, has come up with some useful questions to help you select the best awnings for your patio.

Alex Mungo, Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting

Have you ever wondered why you can go in a shop and buy lovely potatoes and onions throughout a long and very cold winter that have been grown right here in the UK? Actually, it’s all in how they are grown, harvested and stored that makes a difference. You, too, can grow your own potatoes and onions with just a few tips so that you know when and how to plant them and, of course, when and how to harvest and store.

Growing your own potatoes
It isn’t as difficult as it may seem, but you will need to be aware of a few well-placed bits of advice from farming experts such as Carpenter’s Nursery and Farm Shop who make it their mission to provide the best products and information specific to UK growers.

Choosing and Planting Your Seed Potatoes

The first thing you need to know about growing potatoes is in how to choose your seed potatoes to ensure you have virus-free, certified seed and that you’ve prepared your soil approximately two weeks prior to planting. Of course, you also need to have previously placed your ‘seeds’ in trays that are well ventilated with the eyes facing upwards and outwards.

Allow them to grow to at least ½” to 1” in length, or if you prefer metric, 12 to 25 mm. This will take a few weeks, but when they have grown to a good length, you can now plant them in soil that was properly prepared and ready to accept your crop.

Growing potatoes at home

How Long Before You Can Harvest?

This is a question most asked by those who are planting potatoes for the first time. There are actually various times you can harvest and the exciting thing to learn here is that you don’t need to harvest the entire crop at the very same time! You can scrape off a bit of soil to expose the upper potatoes and once they have grown about the size of an egg, you can safely harvest a few new potatoes.

This is approximately 12 weeks, or a bit longer, into the growing season. The rest of the crop will take 6 to 8 weeks longer and at that point you will need to learn how to ‘lift’ them from the soil so that you don’t damage the tubers.

Growing Onions at Home

Like potatoes, onions should be planted sometime between mid-March through mid-April but unlike potatoes, you need to be very careful not to have manured the ground too close to planting. While potatoes can go into ground which has been manured two weeks prior to planting, soil prepared for onions should be prepared a good bit earlier than that as freshly manured soil can easily lead to rot and you surely don’t want that!

Growing onions at home

A Few Closing Words

While potatoes are technically tubers and onions are a root variety plant like garlic and shallots, both will have the main ‘edible’ under the soil. What you have just read through is but a brief idea of just how easy it can be to grow your own potatoes and onions and since both are planted and harvested at about the same times of year, it helps to learn how to do both as it saves you unnecessary steps when preparing and planting your garden.

Both can be stored over a long winter and both are hardy if you start with certified seeds and bulbs. This year, why not plant your own potatoes and onions and enjoy home-grown, organic crops. It’s fun, easy and absolutely rewarding.

Alex MungoAlex is a professional writer with a keen interest in gardening. He currently contributes written articles to various gardening websites such as Carpenters Nursery & Farm Shop.